Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stone Mountain Granite/Graffiti

In 1901, the Atlanta-based Venable Brothers boasted that they had supplied the city of New Orleans with 25,000 feet of Georgia Granite for curbings and crossings (as opposed to the 900,000 feet for Atlanta). The company maintained quarries at both Stone Mountain and Lithonia, which were reached by railroad that was also owned and operated by the Venable Brothers.

In 1915, the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned sculptor Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) to survey the Ku Klux Klan rebirth site for a monument intended as a memorial to the Confederacy, the "Lost Cause Shrine". World War I delayed the project. Eventually Borglum and his patrons parted ways over disagreements, Borglum destroyed his models, and Augustus Lukeman (1871-1935) was hired to complete the work.

Lukeman informed the supervising body -- the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association -- that Borglum's unfinished carving could never be completed, and recommended an altered design, smaller in scale, featuring equestrian figures of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. Borglum's carving was sandblasted away from Stone Mountain's face. The Crash of 1929 shut down operations again, and work did not resume on the project until 1958, when the Georgia State Legislature created the official Stone Mountain Memorial Association, and authorized it to sell revenue bonds.

The Massachusetts-based sculptor Walker Hancock (1901-1998) took over the project, following Lukeman's models. New Orleans stone carver George Weiblen (1895-1970) was ultimately commissioned to supervise the 7 carvers working on the site in the 1960s. Weiblen and his wife lived in a trailer at the mountain's base. On 25 March 1966,
The Atlanta Journal reported that the stone carving was costing $442.80/day in wages, including those of Mr. Weiblen. In the same article, the 70-year-old New Orleans tomb designer conveyed his reasons for taking on the project:

'I want to put my father's name there, too. He brought his family from New Orleans in 1911 to open a quarry on the back side of Stone Mountain and he leased the whole mountain. He offered the Venable Brothers a million dollars for it in 1920. He died in 1961 at the age of 99 and five months. He said he wanted to lie down before breakfast and he took one deep breath and he was gone. I don't know how I will work his name in but there is a way."

George Weiblen died at Stone Mountain in 1970, the same year Vice President Spiro T. Agnew dedicated the monument. It is now part of an expansive theme park that draws millions of visitors annually.

To read more documents related to the project, click here.

To read excerpts from David Freedman's 1997 book, Carved in Stone: The History of Stone Mountain, on googlebooks, click here.

To read the Smithsonian's oral history with Walker Hancock, click here.

[Photograph above: Frank Rippetoe.
Stone Carver at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
8 March 1964. Box 64, Weiblen Marble and Granite Company Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries].

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